Dealing with COVID-19 and changing protocols were the primary discussion topics at the Elk Point-Jefferson School Board meeting Monday, Dec. 14.

According to Superintendent Derek Barrios, the South Dakota Department of Health (DOH) is now acknowleding the reliability of rapid COVID-19 tests. Previously, positive tests were deemed accurate, while negative results were not as reliable.

Because of this, the state has altered its quarantine recommendations for close contacts – anyone in close contact with a positive case while wearing a mask and who is symptom-free must quarantine for seven days and can then take a rapid test. If that test is negative, the quarantine ends immediately. (If not taking a test, the close contact must complete the full 10-day quarantine.) If the rapid test is positive, the contact must isolate for an additional 10 days. Barrios said the rapid test is free for school staff and students.

Board member Travis Geary asked whether there is some way the district can cut down on the number of close contacts. (His family has had three bouts of quarantine already this semester.) K-5 Principal/District SPED Director Laura Throener said most close contacts at the elementary level occur at lunch when students don’t wear their masks; it’s hard to keep kids six feet apart with limited space in the lunchroom. Middle School/High School Principal Skyler Eriksen said another point to consider is that the mental health benefits of social interaction at lunch are just now being recognized. At the same time, board members acknowledged keeping students in the classroom, not learning at home, is equally important. Geary asked whether seating charts at lunch could limit close contacts. Eriksen said that’s not necessary for grades 6-12 as they have well-defined lunch groups, but it might be something worth looking at for elementary students.

One factor that will cut down on future close contacts is students who have positive tests. DOH gives them a 90-day window in which they can’t be reinfected, nor infect those around them. Board member Noelle Jacobs asked whether antibody testing will also keep down close contact numbers. Barrios said that’s harder to determine, as the test does not indicate when the infection occurred, just that it has.

Board member Sabrina Sayler wondered whether vaccines, once they become more readily available, would also cut down on quarantine days, but the board agreed that is still a ways down the road.

See full story in this week’s Leader-Courier.